Status on FBME Bank’s Submission to FinCEN

Status on FBME Bank’s Submission to FinCEN
14 October 2014
On 22 September, FBME Bank Ltd. submitted a public comment to the U.S. Treasury’s
FinCEN department in which it respectfully responded to the concerns outlined by
FinCEN in its Notice of Finding and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the “NPRM”)
dated 15 July 2014 and published in the Federal Register on 22 July 2014.1
FinCEN has confirmed that it is reviewing the Bank’s comment giving it proper
consideration in accordance with the organisation’s rules and regulations. FBME Bank
will continue to engage in further dialogue with FinCEN.
FBME has made its report available on the website having responded
within the 60-day period allowed for a comment to be made.
The FBME Bank submission, prepared by international law firm Hogan Lovells with the
support of forensic accountants Ernst & Young (EY), demonstrated the Bank’s strong
commitment to compliance, its opposition to the use of the Bank for illicit purposes, and
its unequivocal resolve to work in cooperation with FinCEN and any other agency to
prevent financial crime whenever and wherever possible.
On the basis of the review conducted by Hogan Lovells and EY, FBME Bank
respectfully requested in its submission to FinCEN that the Notice and NPRM be
withdrawn. This remains the position of the Bank.
FBME Bank stated its formal position in its response:
“FBME Bank is committed to continuing to cooperate with the U.S. Government
as well as the governments of Cyprus and Tanzania, in the fight against money
laundering and terrorist financing activities. FBME has devoted substantial
resources to developing and enhancing its anti-money laundering (“AML”) and
sanctions compliance program (“Compliance Program” or “Program”) to adhere
to applicable European, Cypriot and Tanzanian standards.”
EY carried out a thorough and independent investigation of FBME Bank’s policies and
operational procedures particularly with regard to anti-money laundering procedures. As
EY found in its assessments:
“FBME’s AML (anti-money laundering) policies are in line with the applicable
requirements of the (EU and Central Bank of Cyprus) Directives”.
The FinCEN website states that: “FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and combat money
laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and
strategic use of financial authorities.” See:
The comment describes the measures that FBME Bank has taken to strengthen its
Compliance Program over recent years, and that it has implemented a programme that
is in line with applicable regulatory requirements.
The Bank is committed to continue to enhance its Compliance Program to the
satisfaction of FinCEN.
As a next step, FBME Bank welcomes the opportunity to cooperate further with FinCEN,
in particular with regard to an assessment of FBME’s Compliance Program and
enhancement plans so that FBME and its customers can resume their legitimate
business activities as soon as possible.
Background: About FBME Bank
FBME is a leading commercial bank with a strong record of serving its global clientbase. The Bank’s success is built on a financially-conservative banking model that
focuses on providing first-class service and solid returns.
The Bank’s origins go back to 1952, when the Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL (FBL) was
founded by Mr Michel Saab. Following the outbreak of war in Lebanon, the Federal
Bank of the Middle East was formed in Cyprus in 1982. The Bank changed its name to
FBME Limited in 2005. FBME Bank Limited and Federal Bank of Lebanon SAL are
today separate entities though belonging to the same owners.
In 1982 FBME Bank Limited’s Cyprus branch was granted a full banking business
licence to operate from within the country under the supervision of the Central Bank of
Cyprus. FBME Bank Limited has now been operating in Cyprus over 30 years.
Originally formed with ownership held between the founder, Mr Michel Saab and his
sons, since the passing away of Mr Michael Saab in 1991, FBME Limited has been
owned equally by Mr Ayoub-Farid M Saab and Mr Fadi M Saab.
Through the holding company and its units, until mid-July 2014, FBME Bank employed
438 people in Cyprus, Tanzania and Russia, of who 200 were citizens of the Republic of
Cyprus. Its client base is geographically diverse, coming from 50 different countries.
Dispute with the Central Bank of Cyprus (CBC)
Following the FinCEN notice of 15 July, the shareholders of FBME invited the Central
Bank to monitor its operations. When notified of the FinCEN Report, FBME took all
appropriate and requested actions within the first 24 hours.
Despite these steps by FBME, the CBC quickly announced that it was assuming
management control of the Bank’s Cyprus branch under local Resolution laws aimed at
taking over distressed banking assets.
The CBC’s central argument for taking over the Bank is flawed – FBME Bank was and
remains a highly solvent and liquid bank. In mid-July, the Bank’s short term liquidity ratio
was 104 per cent. Yet, the CBC restricted access by depositors to their funds even
though the Bank could have met all claims.
On 21 July, after just 24 hours of Central Bank control, the CBC issued a Decree for the
sale of FBME Bank’s branch in the Republic of Cyprus and at that time communicated
the information to FBME’s Shareholders.
FBME Bank regards this as a hostile takeover and the case is currently being contested
in the Cypriot Courts.
FBME is filing a request for arbitration with the Arbitral Tribunal of the International
Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris. The arbitration invokes the Lebanese-Cyprus
Convention on the reciprocal promotion and protection of investment (law 399).
FBME Bank’s Shareholders filed an Interim Application on 14 August 2014 with the
District Court of Nicosia to support the arbitration proceedings. The District Court of
Nicosia will hear the case on 21 October.
The CBC and the Resolution Authority have undertaken not to make a binding
agreement regarding the sale of the branch until judgement is given on the interim
application, though not renouncing their commitment to sell the bank.
FBME strongly believes that the CBC’s actions are damaging to Cyprus and its
reputation as an international banking destination. The CBC’s actions have put the
livelihoods of FBME’s employees at risk. FBME Bank has already been forced to lay off
70 of the 105 employees in its card services team.
FBME Bank continues to contest what it believes is an illegal expropriation of the Bank
by the Central Bank of Cyprus.